Midnight Cowboy (1969)

A naive hustler travels from Texas to New York to seek personal fortune but, in the process, finds himself a new friend.

An all-time favorite of mine.

In my opinion, this is one of the greatest movies ever made in America and it deserved every single award it won and it’s place on the AFI Top 100 list (though it’s shamefully too low on the IMDB Top 250 list, at only #183 as of this writing).

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If you enjoy acting of the highest calibre (Voight and Hoffman are a superb match), well-drawn characterizations and inventive direction, editing and cinematography, you’ll love this just as much as I did. Schlesinger paints a vivid, always credible picture of the late 60s New York City scene and it’s many victims struggling to overcome personal demons and survive amidst the amorality, poverty and hopelessness of 42nd Street, New York City.

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The filmmaking techniques employed here brilliantly capture the feel of the underground New York film movement (and of the city) and are nothing less than dazzling. I’ve seen many ideas (including the rapid-fire editing, the handling of the voice-over flashbacks, the drug/trip sequences and the cartoonish face slipped in during a murder scene to convey angst and terror) stolen by other filmmakers.

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The relationship between Joe and Ratso is handled in such a way as to be viewed as an unusually strong friendship OR having it’s homosexual underpinnings. I think the director handled this in a subtle way not to cop out to the censorship of the times, but rather to concentrate his energies on the importance of a strong human connection in life, whether it be sexual or not.

MIDNIGHT COWBOY is a brave, moving film of magnitude, influence and importance that has lost absolutely none of it’s impact over the years, so if you haven’t seen it, you’re really missing out on a true American classic. I recommend this film to everyone.

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Unique

8/10
Author: Trimac20 from Australia
23 December 2004

The only reason I knew of Midnight Cowboy was because it was in the AFI Critic’s Top 100. For a top 100 it is not a very well known movie; indeed, I had to look hard to find a copy, I got the DVD version for about half-price. Surprisingly it was only rated M15+ (the uncut version).

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I doubt many will take notice of this review (more like comment) so I’ll make it brief.

This is perhaps one of the strangest movies I’ve seen, partly because of the use of montages, artistic filming (very art-house) and the unusual theme. There are many things in the film I still don’t understand (I’ve seen it twice), and it makes for an emotionally confusing film.

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The filming and acting were very good, and it is the larger than life characters which make this film memorable. The main character is Joe Buck, a ‘cowboy’ from Texas who moves to New York to become a male prostitute. He meets the crippled conman Enrico ‘Ratso’ Rizzo and, of course they become friends going through the usual escapades. What makes the film interesting is the two characters are so different.

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I felt the film didn’t really develop the relationship between Buck and Enrico Rizzo for the audience to have any real emotional connection, although the ending is certainly quite sad and tragic. You probably already know what happens by reading the reviews, but its pretty obvious from the start.

I personally think the film beautifully and poignantly explores its main themes. The deprivation of humanity (shown by the darkness of the city streets, the breaking-down tenements). Most of the characters in the film exist beyond the law (a conman, giggolo.etc) yet you can’t help liking them. Joe Buck is endearing because he is so naive and optimistic, while we begin to feel pity for Ratso later in the film.

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I think the film was rated so high because it was certainly very ground-breaking for its period. At the time (And even now) it was definitely not a typical movie (quite art-house). At a time when the cinema was dominated by tired westerns, musicals and dramas a film with such an unusual theme as Midnight Cowboy pops up.

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On a personal level, I must say I quite liked the film. The imagery conveyed a dream-like quality. I particularly liked the scene at the party, the music, images etc stay in your mind for a long time after watching. However, as a movie for entertainment’s sake it was a bit lacking (not really my style of movie) in thrills. This is a film to be savoured and appreciated, rather than a cheap thrills action flick.

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Although I would hardly consider myself qualified to analyse this film, the characters and their motives were quite interesting. From what I understand from the flashbacks, Joe Buck was sexually abused as a child by his grandmother, although it still doesn’t seem to be relevant to the story. He is a happy-go-lucky young stud, who suppresses his darker memories. The religious connotations in the film are also puzzling. Some have suggested a homosexual connection between Buck and Ratso, although I fail to see where they have got the idea from. The theme of homo-sexuality in general is more than touched upon in their conversation, and later in Joe Buck’s encounter with a lonely old man, but it has little to do with the main story.

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Certainly from a technical point of view one of the finest films of the decade (it has more of a 70s feel to it than a 60s feel) and revolutionary for its time touching on subjects few other films dared to do. While it has a simple, sentimental story to it (disguised by a hard edge) the beauty of the film is in the strange, often psychedelic sequences.

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Much better than expected

10/10
Author: MovieAddict2016 from UK
5 December 2004

I sat down to watch “Midnight Cowboy” thinking it would be another overrated ’60s/’70s movie. Some of my favorite films come from the ’70s, in the same vein as “Midnight Cowboy” (“Taxi Driver,” “Mean Streets,” “Panic in Needle Park,” etc.) but there are many, many overrated ones as well that have gained strong reputations amongst critics for being groundbreaking – unfortunately a vast majority of them don’t hold up as well today. I sort of feel this way about “Easy Rider.” (Although it, too, is one of my favorites.)

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So, I didn’t expect much from “Midnight Cowboy” but got a lot back. It’s a touching story, well-made and well-told with some of the best performances of all time. Dustin Hoffman, as Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo, gives one of his best – it’s a bit funny at times (he sounds like a cartoon character when he speaks – maybe because of the Lenny/”Simpsons” connection), but Hoffman is entirely convincing. Half of the film’s budget went towards his paycheck as he was just becoming a major star in Hollywood. Opposite him is the second-billed Jon Voight as Joe Buck, the “cowboy” who travels North to the Big Apple in the hopes of becoming a male prostitute. Soon his naive ways land him in trouble and he pairs up with a crippled scam artist named “Ratso” – who offers to become Joe’s “manager” for a certain percentage of profits.

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The movie is quite long at two hours but never really seems very long. Some films can tend to drag, especially some of the films that were made in the ’70s because (as it’s been said in “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls”) the directors were the stars of the movies in the 1970s and occasionally they got a bit too infatuated with their material, going on too long examining characters/scenes/etc. that aren’t important. Just about the only scene I felt was a bit too long and unnecessary was the drug party – it makes the film seem extremely outdated (similar to the drug odysseys in “Easy Rider”) and really harms its flow because it’s not needed.

Other than that, “Midnight Cowboy” is an almost flawless motion picture. I was pleasantly surprised. It does have its flaws (flashbacks are a bit tacky and never used as well as they could have been, for instance) and some of the scenes are a bit uneasy (such as the gay movie theater sequence) but if you can handle its content “Midnight Cowboy” is a truly great motion picture, an uncompromising examination of life on the streets in the late ’60s/early ’70s.

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It’s a depressing movie, yes, and by today’s standards might seem a bit outdated and heavy on the liberal perspective of “life is horrible, etc.”…but I still love it and particularly the extremely touching ending will stay with me for a long, long time.

Highly recommended. One of the best films of the ’70s. (It was technically released in late 1969 but I’d still categorize it as a 1970s film. It also won the Best Picture Oscar, being the first – and only – X-rated motion picture to do so. It was later re-rated R on appeal.)

Two Stellar Performances and a Pervasive Honesty Make This One Still a Winner

9/10
Author: Ed Uyeshima from San Francisco, CA, USA
5 April 2006

It’s not quite the timeless masterpiece you would hope it would be based on the acclaim it garnered, but 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy” is still a powerhouse showcase for two young actors just bursting into view at the time.

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Directed by John Schlesinger and written by Waldo Salt, the movie seems to be a product of its time, the late 1960’s when American films were especially expressionistic, but it still casts a spell because the story comes down to themes of loneliness and bonding that resonate no matter what period. The film’s cinematic influence can still be felt in the unspoken emotionalism found in Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain”.

The meandering plot follows Joe Buck, a naive, young Texan who decides to move to Manhattan to become a stud-for-hire for rich women. Full of energy but lacking any savvy, he fails miserably but is unwilling to concede defeat despite his dwindling finances. He meets a cynical, sickly petty thief named “Ratso” Rizzo, who first sees Joe as an easy pawn. The two become dependent on one another, and Rizzo begins to manage Joe. Things come to a head at a psychedelic, drug-infested party where Joe finally lands a paying client. Meanwhile, Rizzo becomes sicker, and the two set off for Florida to seek a better life. This is not a story that will appeal to everyone, in fact, some may still find it repellent that a hustler and a thief are turned into sympathetic figures, yet their predicaments feel achingly authentic.

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In his first major role, Jon Voight is ideally cast as he brings out Joe’s paper-thin bravado and deepening sexual insecurities. As Rizzo, Dustin Hoffman successfully upends his clean, post-college image from “The Graduate” and immerses himself in the personal degradation and glimmering hope that act as an oddly compatible counterpoint to Joe. The honesty of their portrayals is complemented by Schlesinger’s film treatment which vividly captures the squalor of the Times Square district at the time. The director also effectively inserts montages of flashbacks and fantasy sequences to fill in the character’s fragile psyches. Credit also needs to go to Salt for not letting the pervasive cynicism overwhelm the pathos of the story. The other performances are merely incidental to the journeys of the main characters, including Brenda Vaccaro as the woman Joe meets at the party, Sylvia Miles as a blowsy matron, John McGiver as a religious zealot and Barnard Hughes as a lonely out-of-towner.

The two-disc 2006 DVD package contains a pristine print transfer of the 1994 restoration and informative commentary from producer Jerome Hellman since unfortunately neither Schlesinger nor Salt are still living. There are three terrific featurettes on the second disc – a look-back documentary, “After Midnight: Reflections on a Classic 35 Years Later”, which features comments from Hellman, Hoffman, Voight and others, as well as clips and related archive footage such as Voight’s screen test; “Controversy and Acclaim”, which examines the genesis of the movie’s initial ‘X’ rating and public response to the film; and a tribute to the director, “Celebrating Schlesinger”.

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Brilliant counter-culture film

8/10
Author: camadon from United States
18 February 2006
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Midnight Cowboy opens with a run down Drive In theater with the voice-over of the main character Joe Buck (Jon Voight) singing in the shower. He is singing a cowboy song, the very thing he strives to be. Joe picks up his humdrum life living in Texas and moves it to New York City with the dream of lots of women, and even more money. He dresses as the epitome of the cowboy, but in a cartoonish fashion, not even his friends take him seriously. He begins his journey on the bus to NYC and we can quickly see how diluted Joe is through his interactions with the other passengers. This is primarily a story of Joe’s realization of the harsh realities of the real world.

He starts off as a very naïve southerner thinking he can make it in NYC just on his good looks. He has no other reason to think otherwise, as they proved helpful in the past; we learn this from the many flashbacks he has. In the beginning the flashbacks are filmed in a way that portrays them as being somewhat whimsical.

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They are hazy and the voices sound as if they are coming from a great distance, as they are, they are coming out of his past. However, as Joe delves deeper and deeper into the reality of the harsh atmosphere of NYC we see more of his past, which is no longer whimsical but gritty, filmed in black and white with rapid editing to portray the cruel nature of the past events. This is especially seen in the flashback of him and his girlfriend being assaulted, and her being raped. In one of these flashbacks we see a building being torn down brick by brick. This mirrors the way in which Joe himself is falling apart; the naiveté that he once carried is falling off of him. He and Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) are living in squalor, and barely able to get food to eat; Joe is realizing he cannot live off of his looks, that there is a gritty underbelly of New York that he didn’t envision. His subconscious mirrors the way in which his real life is panning out.

Ratso is also serves as a kind of mirror to Joe, but in an opposite way; Ratso is Joe’s foil. Joe is a handsome, strong man who, for the most part, has a good outward appearance. Ratso, on the other hand, from the very first time we see him sitting next to Joe in the bar we can tell he is the opposite. He is short, dark, and always coated with a sheen of sweat. He understands how the world works, that it is unforgiving, and sometimes no matter how hard you try you will fail; just as his father did. They are living in the same world, the same apartment even, but they understand things on a completely different level.

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The theme of alienation, one that is common of this era, is very apparent in this film. Neither Joe nor Ratso fit into the culture surrounding them. Joe feels trapped in Texas and moves to NYC where he is still very much an outsider. Ratso, living in the cold of NYC, wishes to move to sunny Florida where he thinks he will be able to find a good life. Even though this is his ideal, in the fantasy we get from Ratso’s perspective, it is apparent that he knows he will never really fit into society. In said fantasy he is turned on by the people living around him, he is yet again an outsider, alienated from society.

It is not until the end that the gap between Joe and Ratso begins to narrow. Joe resorts to violence; he takes on the mentality of this city in order to get money to fund a means of escape for Florida for himself and Ratso. On the journey we see Joe coming out of a store not wearing the cowboy clothes that he is never without in the rest of the film. He is dressed as someone who looks like they are headed to Florida for vacation.

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He dresses Ratso the same way; he tires to make them fit into the new society they are entering, but it is to no avail. Upon Ratso’s death on the bus, their fellow passengers once again look them upon as outsiders. Even in this new culture they have entered, they cannot escape the alienation they have met at every turn in this film. Despite the Ratso’s death, and Joe’s continued alienation, the film ends with the hope that Joe can take his new knowledge of how the world works and create a better life than he would have had as a hustler in NYC. Midnight Cowboy is an excellent film portraying the harsh reality of society, and alienation, with stellar performances by both Voight and Hoffman.

It gets better with every passing year

10/10
Author: Martin Bradley (MOscarbradley@aol.com) from Derry, Ireland
3 August 2007
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

“Midnight Cowboy” was never a great movie to start with but it is a classic. You know it’s a classic the moment its insistent theme song, ‘Everybody’s Talking’ starts up on the soundtrack, (actually not written for the film), and the way the camera introduces us to Joe Buck, (naked and in the shower). We had seen Jon Voight before but had never really noticed him but when he tells us he’s ‘one helluva stud’ who’s to doubt him?

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This was a great performance that had iconic star status as well as a complete grasp of the character and if Voight had never done anything else, his performance here would still be legendary. As it is Voight has seldom disappointed on screen; even a piece of ham as well cured as his performance in that glorious rubbish “Anaconda” is a source of pleasure).

The film became famous and infamous almost overnight. It was a crowd-pleaser, (even with its downbeat ending), funny and sexy and recognizably ‘real’; (it was the tail-end of the sixties and all the characters rang true). It was also the first ‘X’ rated film to win the Oscar as the year’s Best Picture. Adapted, (brilliantly), by Waldo Salt from a James Leo Herlihy novel it was probably the first main-stream commercial American movie to deal with ‘taboo’ subjects such as homosexuality and drug-taking in a matter-of-fact manner. Everyone is recognizably human, warts and all, and everyone is treated sympathetically.

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Voight’s Joe Buck is an innocent abroad, a Candide who comes to New York to seek his fortune as a hustler, (a profession he sees as glamorous and not seedy; he’s a cross between a gigolo and a social worker). But when he himself is hustled by a scraggy, wormy little con-man called ‘Ratso’ Rizzo, (Dustin Hoffman, fresh from “The Graduate” and he’s a revelation), he realizes that perhaps the reality is a little different from the pipe-dream.

Essentially it’s a male love story, (though totally platonic), between these two not so unlikely bedfellows. Both totally alone, both totally needy each becomes the protector of the other, (Voight with his physical prowess, Hoffman with his street-wise savvy). They are misfits adrift from the mainstream, tolerant of their own peculiarities and the deviances of others. Though ‘straight’ Voight isn’t beyond a homosexual encounter in a 42nd street cinema with a boy even lonelier than himself. (The whole film posits a strangely ‘Christian’ attitude).

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It’s also magnificently acted. While Voight and Hoffman hold the screen throughout there are superb vignettes from the likes of Brenda Vaccaro and Sylvia Miles as well as John McGiver, Bob Balaban and Bernard Hughes as sundry customers and hangers-on, beautifully delineated little character studies that seem to transcend acting altogether while John Schlesinger’s direction gives the film the feel of a documentary as well as an alien’s totally detached eye-view of the American under-belly without rancor and without criticism. On second thoughts, maybe it is a great movie after all.

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